Short stories are flings

Christopher GoldenToday we welcome Christopher Golden whose short story collection Tell My Sorrows to the Stones was published a few weeks ago (here’s my review). He’s here to talk about the origins of a couple of the stories in this collection and to ask you about short stories that are meaningful to you. One random commenter will win a copy of Tell My Sorrows to the Stones.

Novels are long-term relationships. Short stories, on the other hand… short stories are flings. Some of them are quick and tawdry one night stands while others are lovely first dates that don’t lead to anything more, but that you’ll remember fondly later on. Like flings, short stories all seem to begin differently. Oh, I don’t mean begin as in, the opening lines… I mean the origins. The moment the idea strikes, or coalesces, as is sometimes the case. They don’t all strike. Sometimes they lurch into being like Mary Shelley’s nightmare.

I’m very proud of the stories included in my new collection, Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, and they all have “origins” to go along with them. I won’t bore you with all of them — I suspect at some point even the most interested among you would not find the “stories behind the stories” as interesting as I think they are. But I will share a few of them with you.

The first time I wrote anything that could conceivably be thought of as an actual short story — something with a beginning, middle and end — was back in high school. It was called “A Cold Familiar Feeling,” and no, you won’t find it in my collection. I was fifteen years old when a friend of my mother’s — a local agent — helped submit that story and one other to a variety of magazines, everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Playboy. There were no takers, but a number of the editors sent kind and encouraging notes, surprised that the stories had been written by a fifteen year old.

Tell My Sorrows to the Stones by Christopher GoldenThe second of those two stories was called “All Aboard.” To be clear, it’s not the story of the same name that you’ll find in Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, but they do share a certain structural similarity, and both were inspired by one of my favorite sounds in the world — the distant whistle of a late night train. It would be interesting, I think, if people could read both versions and compare them, but for now the original collects dust in a file in my office. When I wrote the original version, it was about a train full of Romeroesque ghost-zombies. The “adult-me” version still has a train full of ghosts, but it’s an entirely different experience. The latter day version is a story about loneliness and grief, topics that fifteen year old me knew very little about. It is this unique origin that makes “All Aboard” one of my very favorite of my stories.

Another of those favorites is a nasty little ditty called “Put on a Happy Face.” Author Kevin J. Anderson is also the editor of the Blood Lite anthology series, and he was kind enough to ask me to contribute a story. The trouble, as I insisted to him over and over, was that I’m not funny. Oh, I can be sarcastic enough, and sitting around a table, I’ve been known to make people laugh. But to write a humorous horror story… it just wasn’t something I felt like I could get a handle on. I agonized over it, tried again and again to think of something funny.

Then I thought… what if the story was about someone desperate to be funny? If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you’ve seen those people who come in thinking they are the greatest singers in the world because their mothers have told them so, all their lives. The main character in “Put on a Happy Face” grows up thinking he’s hilarious. Thanks, Mom! His only dream is to become a circus clown and he achieves that dream… but over the years, he realizes that he’s not so funny after all, and the realization forces him to pursue a very dark path. It’s a twisted tale, and I loved every minute I spent writing it.

Part of the story’s origin is its first line. When I came up with that line, I knew the story was going to wok. Here’s how it goes…

“The blood seeping out of the midget car was Benny’s first clue that something had gone awry.”

That line makes me happy.

In fact, all of the stories in Tell My Sorrows to the Stones make me happy, in one way or another. If you like dark, haunted, unsettling, sometimes sexy stories, I think they’ll make you happy, too.

What about you, reader? Can you tell us about a short story that you’ve read or written that’s particularly meaningful to you? 

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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  1. I think I’d like to read “Put on a Happy Face.” That sounds like fun and I noticed that Terry thought it was one of the best in the collection. Several of them sound like stories I’d enjoy.

  2. sandyg265 /

    The first short story that comes to mind is Spider Glass by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. It’s about a mirror that has a feature which can only be seen by a vampire.

  3. Some of the most memorable stories I’ve read were written by Harlan Ellison. One of my favorites is “Jefty is Five.” I think this story would be even more meaningful to someone a little older than me — someone who grew up on the 50s and 60s — but I still love it and recommend it to all SFF readers.

  4. Joe Hill’s short story “Pop Art” is one of the most absurd, touching and beautiful stories I’ve ever read. It’s in his collection 20th Century Ghosts if you’d like to track it down.

  5. Chrissy /

    Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

    I read this short story (novella?) when I was 12. It was important to me, but at that time I didn’t know why. I related to it on a basic level, appreciating Red’s point of view, watching And learning with Red about Andy Dufrane. I thought, as a 12 year old girl, it was a story about friendship. It is, but, as with every great piece of literature, the theme the reader relates to most isn’t singular.
    I grew up, and I learned about life and humanity and reread Shawshank every couple of years. There’s so much in there, so many scenarios and struggles that happen over the period of time in the book that I can relate to, always, at every age, even though I’ve never been to jail.

  6. I read this short story in an anthology called Epic: Legends of Fantasy. It was about this city where an aggressive plant was taking over. It killed anyone who was near it, and there was an inventor who was trying to find a way to stop it by using magic, which was forbidden. His daughter was sick and he wanted to save her too. I won’t ruin the ending, it’s called The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi, but the story really stuck with me.

  7. Rowanne Moore /

    Over 15 years ago I read a story that still haunts me to this day. It is “The Master’s Time” by Anya Martin and Steve Antczak. It was in the anthology “Confederacy Of The Dead”. That story still haunts me to this day. It took me a very long time to finally tell Anya how much the story moved me. Be careful of what you wish for, you just may get it… sort of.

  8. I’m not really a huge fan of short stories – generally I only like them if they are set in familiar sff worlds. However, I do recall a short that we were required to read in school, lo these many years ago, and I don’t remember the title or the author but it was about a terminally ill man and a painted leaf outside his window. I think of it often when I need to have something to help me get through the next step of whatever I’m doing.

    • “The Last Leaf” by O’Henry

      • Thanks Bill! Maybe now that I know what the name is I should read it again.

        • I just went back and read it and it is nothing like I remembered except for the theme itself. Isn’t it funny how we perceive things differently at different ages?

          • that is very funny. I had actually downloaded it on audio, along with a bunch of other O’Henry and Saki stories for our long trip this summer, but I don’t recall if I found it much different than expectations.

  9. Blu Gilland, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of Tell My Sorrows to the Stones!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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